Lethbridge Open House Stresses Need for Volunteers to Assist Refugees

News Story

On February 11, 2018, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hosted an open house together with Volunteer Lethbridge and Lethbridge Family Services–Immigrant Services (LFS–IS). The open house’s purpose was to enlist volunteer support from the community to help the 300–400 new refugees who settle in Lethbridge, Alberta, each year.

Daren Heyland, a local Church member and organizer of the event, shared the importance of helping those in need. Heyland said, “It is our obligation to give to those who have less and have unmet needs, regardless of race, religion or geographic origin.”

Tyler Ramsey of LFS–IS explained the immigration situation in Lethbridge. One of the programs he spoke of is the Community Connections Volunteer Program. This program matches volunteers from the local community with refugee families or individuals to help them settle into their new life. The program needs volunteers who can commit a minimum of four hours a month for six months. Currently, 15 Syrian families in their first year in Lethbridge have yet to be paired with volunteers, with more refugees on the way.

The volunteer requirements are easy to meet: a short interview, a volunteer application form and a free police and child welfare check. After being matched, the only requirement is to get to know the refugee family and keep a monthly report.

Ramsey explained: “Volunteers are a big part of our work at the agency, where we welcome newcomers and help them build new lives in Lethbridge. Our volunteers come from diverse walks of life, and they all want to make a difference. Many tell us they love helping these refugees and making friends from around the world.”

Diana Sim of Volunteer Lethbridge spoke to the group about the role of volunteers, the benefits to individuals and the positive contribution volunteers can make to a community. Volunteer Lethbridge has many different programs and opportunities, a little something for everyone.

Sim also highlighted the opportunity for new arrivals to give back to their new community. For example, Project Paintbrush — where volunteers paint a needy person’s house, fence or patio — is one project in which new arrivals can volunteer to help others in the community.

Sim reminded the attendees that “volunteering creates a lasting legacy that transforms the lives of the people who volunteer and the people that benefit.”

Of the several new refugees who attended the event, three Syrians shared their personal stories. Coming from a war-torn country, where they had lost all hope and opportunity for a normal life, they expressed gratitude to the Canadian government, LFS–IS and members of the Lethbridge community, who have welcomed them and given them new opportunities.

One young Syrian girl, Dilber Alali, shared how she has aspirations to go to school and get a good education. She was saddened that while in Syria, and then as a refugee in Europe for four years, she did not have that opportunity.

Glenda Light and Frank Walton, volunteers currently engaged in assisting new arrivals to Canada, also shared their experiences. They stated that they were motivated to make a difference but had to overcome their fears of the unknown and difficulties with the language barriers. In the end, however, they developed meaningful, loving relationships with their new friends. When asked how they overcame the barriers, Light said, “Just being present, at times, was sufficient to provide [the new refugee family] with security and connection.”

Sister Sharon Eubank, first counsellor in the Church’s Relief Society general presidency and director of LDS Charities, stated, “Refugees need to nurture their spirits and progress and can only do so if they have ‘a friend, meaningful work, and the freedom to practice sincere beliefs’” (“Faith Is Key to Rising From Refugee Status, Elder Holland Says,” Church News, Sept. 2017).

Elder James E. Evanson, who resides in Lethbridge, Alberta, and is an Area Seventy of the Church with responsibility for southern Alberta, has also stated: “The Apostle James reminds us that ‘pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.’ This call extends to those who find themselves in any type of affliction. Zion is a refuge from the storm, and we need to extend that refuge to any in our community who require it. Elder Patrick Kearon has said, ‘The possibilities for us to lend a hand and be a friend (to refugees) are endless. … Let us come out from our safe places and share with them … love that sees beyond cultural and ideological differences to the glorious truth that we are all children of our Heavenly Father.’1 We can all be good Samaritans to the wounded, homeless and displaced, thus reminding them that they are not forsaken by their loving Father in Heaven.”

References:

  1. Refuge from the Storm,” April 2016 general conference.

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